Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Compassion Sponsorship Journey - Saying Goodbye to Josefa

Four years ago, I made the decision to sponsor Josefa from Guatemala with Compassion. She is just about to turn 18 and two weeks ago I received a letter saying she had graduated from the program. Normally this would be cause for rejoicing and eagerly anticipating the next stage on the journey away from poverty, but instead I am grieving.

I want to share the journey we have been on over the last four years as sponsor and sponsored child.

Josefa was 13 when I first sponsored her and one of the first things that struck me about her was her letters were always so detailed, raw and honest. Many people take years to form any sort of connection or relationship with their sponsored kids because it seems like they get the same scant template letters a couple of times a year with minimal detail, but this girl did not hold back.

One of the first things I found out was that her father was an alcoholic and, as the oldest child, Josefa was forced to work just to put food on the table for her mother and four siblings. Thankfully, she said her employers treated her well and she loved them. However, this seriously derailed her dream of being a doctor, since she was unable to go to school.

Josefa’s letters painted a clear picture of the hardships she and her family faced, but I was continually staggered by her spiritual maturity and rock-solid faith in Jesus. Here is a sample of the words I was treated to every time I opened a letter from Josefa:

Life is not very happy here because there is a lot of crime, child abuse and in Guatemala life is very hard, because we work in the field and as the sun is very strong, then we get sick. After that we see the hard work fruit and of the time we spent at work

I was very happy because my dreams would come true, I am so eager, that will be an unforgettable day for me and my family, it’s the first time the sponsor will come to visit. I know it was your decision, our dream would come true. Thank you for the time you give me. Every time I write to you I get courage to go on, I feel so proud to have you

I pray for you every day because now I know that dreams can come true asking God with all the heart. Thank you for all the time you gave me and for giving me your love and attention.

Thank you for the letters you have sent to me and for the time you dedicate to write to me. When I read the letters you send me I am so happy to know more about you and I know every day you enjoy lots of things with your family, students and friends and other sponsors.

I have the honor of having a sponsor like you; you are one of my best examples to follow because it is wonderful to read the letters you sent to me. It is as if I were close to you; I am happy, like with your presence in my humble home. It was so great when you were with me. I will never forget that day. If I lived with you it would be a great life, sad-happy, full of blessings and joy. When I write letters to you I get inspired because I imagine you with me. I don’t know how, but it is like magic writing these words because I do not say them, my heart says them, and with lots of love. I pray that you enjoy God’s blessing every day, and that you be an angel of God. I ask God for the day that you would come to my humble home.

In my free time I read a book or the Bible because sometimes I get scared. It’s like living as you read it. I like to read inspirational thoughts and I like visiting home. I wrote something: “Dreams come true asking God for wisdom because to Him, nothing is impossible; we have to open our heart and ask with faith.” This pushes me to go on when I am in trouble my family or in my life.

Thank you for the letter that you sent me, I missed communicating with you and I am happy and proud that you continue sponsoring me. I prayed God so you would communicate with me again because you have my love and my trust. I feel proud to have you as my sponsor again

I always pray God so you can be happy and healthy and also that you can achieve your purposes so that people can follow you as a model man. I expect your visit with joy, I’m so excited and I felt the most blessed person by God, since He gave me a sponsor like you

In 2014 I was living in the Philippines, so Josefa was sponsored by a friend of a friend I did not know personally. Late in the year when I knew I was coming back to Australia I checked in with my friend how Josefa’s sponsorship was going, and it turned out the sponsor had let her go after only a few months. I was devastated, and immediately contacted Compassion to see if I could resume sponsoring Josefa. Even though I was still a volunteer in the Philippines at that point, God provided for me financially so I was able to resume straight away.

Her profile picture broke my heart.

This was a face bereft of any hope or joy and I immediately sent a letter off, desperate to speak words of life and joy back into her soul.

God gave me the incredible opportunity to visit Josefa’s family twice, first in January 2013 and most recently in July 2015. They live in a remote Mayan (indigenous) community in the mountains about three hours from Guatemala City.

They were both incredibly impacting days I will never forget. While I thought I had some grasp of what the family’s life is like from Josefa’s letters, the harsh reality of their daily life was only fully evident when I made the decision to actually step into their lives for a day and be with them. I left both times feeling like I’d been kicked in the guts, but also thankful that God was allowing me to make a tangible difference to this family’s life through sponsorship.

Many sponsors are happy for their sponsored child to be nothing more than a monthly cheque and a face on the fridge. I can understand that to a point: maybe they’re afraid of what they’ll find out about their child’s reality if they go deeper. I made the decision early on that if I wanted to love these kids and families like God loves them, I had to make the choice to invest in them fully, first by writing regularly and then by visiting. God has used the visits to the homes and communities to wreck my heart, but also solidify my life’s mission, purpose and vision to use what I’ve been given to help others.

On the visits to Josefa I was able to meet the whole family and I was blessed by their hospitality and generosity. Out of the little they had, they gave much.

We got out the letters I had written to Josefa and looked at the pictures. I was given proof that when you write letters to your sponsored child it’s the whole family that’s impacted, as her mother enthusiastically rattled off things she knew about me from the letters.

I was able to see the Project (church) and meet many of the kids in their intricate colourful Mayan clothing. The church is Josefa’s safe space, an atmosphere filled with the love and peace of God, where she can learn, grow and thrive into the beautiful woman God has created her to be.

I was able to take the family shopping for groceries and out to a meal at Pollo Campero (think KFC). As simple as it seems, this was always one of the profound parts of the visits I’ve done, since most if not all the families cannot afford to eat out together and I was able to provide them with this memorable family time.

I met Josefa’s father in 2013 but when I visited in 2015 the family had not seen him for three days. It was so obvious that Josefa was starved of any sort of affection and she clung to me all day. As a sponsor, it has never been my intention to be any sort of “replacement father.” I believe that part of a sponsor’s role is to work WITH the parents to support their children and give them a hope and a future free from poverty. However it is clear from this video that Josefa sees my four years of investment in her life as being like a father to her.

Her father turned up as we were leaving the Project, clearly drunk and soaking wet. I wondered what would happen, but thankfully he was full of nothing but gratitude to God and to me for caring for his daughter when he was unable to.

The reason I am not full joy and excitement at the news that Josefa is graduating is because when I left that family six months ago, I did not get the sense that they were anywhere close to being “released from poverty,” at least in the material sense. Josefa and her brother were both working just to put food on the table and Josefa was not at school.

Unless things have changed drastically in the last six months and her father has turned his life around and is providing for his family, I don’t see how stopping the sponsorship at this point is beneficial to the family.

Please understand: I'm not questioning the decision to graduate her. I fully trust Compassion to make the right decision for the family and not just stop the support and leave them to fend for themselves just because Josefa has turned 18. However, based on what I saw after being in the family’s lives for a day, I do feel a sense of “Surely it can’t end like this?” and “What’s next for this family?” I am feeling a sense of loss and grief after investing in their lives for four years.

I do take solace in the fact that the family are committed Christians, and they have the church community to help and support them. I know that as much as I love this family, God loves them even more and He will take care of them. That’s all I can hold on to.

This was my final letter to Josefa:

Dear Josefa,

I received a letter from Compassion saying that you have graduated the program and I won’t be your sponsor anymore, so I guess this will be my last letter to you.

I hope you know that you and your family are very special to me. I will always remember the two days we had together when I came to visit you. Thank you for having me in your home and in your life. Seeing up close how hard your life is made me sad and I thought about you often. I am thankful to God that He enabled me to help and provide for your family, and as you get older I hope you hold onto God’s love for you.

I will be praying for your father, that he will make good decisions and come back and support you and your family. I pray that he will give his addiction to Jesus, because Jesus is the only one who can help him. I will also be praying for your brother, that God will help him in his work, and that he is able to resist going down the same path that your father has.

When I was with you I noticed you were very affectionate. I could tell that you are desperate for someone to love you because you haven’t always had that love when you were growing up. I know that God will provide you with a wonderful man in the future and I pray that you make wise choices regarding your friends and the things you do with them.

I need you to know how proud I am of you and your family. You are very brave and you inspire me. Despite the difficulties of your life, you continue to help each other and trust in God for your needs. That is amazing to me and I love you so much. Please know that even though I am not your sponsor anymore, I will always remember you and pray for you. God has given me His love for you, and you will never be forgotten.

I need to tell you again how much God loves you. The Bible teaches us that we are separated from God because of sin but when Jesus came down to earth from heaven, died on the cross and rose again, we can now be friends with God again and live with Him forever in Heaven. It is amazing that God would come down to earth to be with us. That is how much He loves us!

I want to share with you from the book of Psalms chapter 36, verses 5-12:
Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice is like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord. How precious is your unfailing love O God.
All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your rivers of delight.
For you are the fountain of life, the light by which they see.
Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you; give justice to those with honest hearts.

I pray these words are true for you and that God helps these words of Life and encouragement sink deep in your heart. I am so proud of who you are now and who you will become. Keep working hard and dreaming big because with God, all things are possible. I love you with the love of God.

Your friend, David.


  1. It is so hard to say goodbye! What a sweet final letter for her. I know that the impact you made in each other's lives will carry through both of your lives.

  2. Is there any chance that one of her younger siblings is registered in the program? I've heard of that happening before: sponsors taking on the younger sibling of a child after the older one graduates.